Friday, December 24, 2010

The Stockings Were Hung by the Chimney with Care...

Last night, Josh and I sat on the family room floor in the light of the Christmas tree and wrapped and wrapped and wrapped.  We lifted each gift out of its shopping bag, all carefully chosen for a three-year-old girl delighted by puppies and princesses and pink and and a five-year-old boy discovering the wonders of reading and enthralled by toys he can construct, engineer.

Tonight, the kids made an extra-chocolatey glass of milk and chose two of the cookies they decorated to leave out for Santa.  As we headed upstairs for bed, the doorbell rang, and we opened it to neighbors serenading us with carols.  We read 'Twas The Night Before Christmas and the final page of our advent book, which ends, of course, at the manger.

And so, with the kids tucked soundly in bed, Josh and I descended to the family room to make our final preparations for morning.  We brought up all the gifts and placed them around the tree.   We wrapped the last few gifts we remembered we'd stashed in closets and drawers months ago.  And we filled the stockings with their presents from Santa.

The  North Pole contributions were more difficult to find this year.  Abby asked for a "reindeer she could sleep with," and while most years, I feel like I see reindeer everywhere, I must have been in the wrong places this year.  Yesterday, I finally saw a darling, girly reindeer with a red and white polk-a-dotted bow between her antlers: Clarice from the movie Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  It's soft and snuggly and perfect.

Ben, to our chagrin, asked Santa for a Santa costume.  I knew as soon as he said it we'd have trouble finding the big red suit for a child.  We saw some options online, but they were either expensive or huge, so I managed to pull together a makeshift suit comprised of 1 Santa hat, 2 Santa slippers, and cute Santa pajamas--or so I thought until we pulled the pajamas out of their packaging tonight and found they said, "What Santa doesn't bring me Grandma will."  This little tiding of joy was invisible when I bought them.  Argh.

So in an effort to save the costume, Josh spent part of the evening in the kitchen sewing a patch over these tacky words (I know, I know: domestic diva I am not; Josh is the one who sews in this family).  When he finished, the patch actually looked like Santa's sack, like it could have been part of the original design.  On the patch, we wrote "To Ben, From Santa"--a personalized touch.  How many kids get that?  It's impromptu and imperfect, but I hope the gift is received as wonderful because it's from "Santa."

And this is what it means to be Mommy and Daddy.  We get to create the magic of the season.  We set the tone.  In every aspect, we get to wow and surprise and delight.  And it is our joy to do so.

While wrapping presents last night, I felt such excitement to see the kids open their gifts--a grown-up giddiness not unlike the childlike anticipation I felt when I was little and couldn't wait to open my own presents.  I thought of the verse in James that says, "every good and perfect gift is from above" and gratefully acknowledged that these gifts come not just from me and Josh.  I considered the verse that reminds us that if we on earth know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more the Father in heaven delights in giving good gifts.  And I reveled in the knowledge that tomorrow morning is but a taste of God...not in the tangible items that will be unwrapped and played with but in the Love that accompanies each gift.

It's nearly midnight, nearly Christmas: the stockings are hung with care, we've left the plate of cookie crumbs and the empty milk cup by the fireplace with notes for each of them from Santa, and now we'll head to bed with visions of giggles and laughter and the wonder of our precious little ones in our heads.  In the morning, we'll open stockings, we'll sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus with candles in our coffee cake, and we'll begin the exchange of so much more than commercialism.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Is Anything Too Wonderful for God?"

I discovered Sara Groves last Christmas on the radio and downloaded her holiday album, Oh Holy Night, to enjoy this season.  I love her folksy voice and her original arrangements for the traditional hymns I've sung since childhood.  In the last several years, the words of songs like "Oh Holy Night" and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" have held new, poignant meaning anyway.  But somehow, listening to the lyrics in a different rhythm, with a different melody, invites yet another, new reflection.

This song, "It's True," which begins and ends with Groves' young son narrating the encounter between the angel Gabriel and Mary, nearly brings me to tears every time.  The incarnation itself is miraculous.  But the idea that God would send a baby--not an army, not a natural disaster, not a political powerhouse--to save the world leaves me reeling in wonder.

"But this is too wonderful," Mary says.

"Is anything too wonderful for God?" the angel replies.

...No.  For nothing is impossible with God.  And if God is love, and if nothing is impossible, then we are in for some wonders.

At the end of the song, the young boy describes the star shining above the stable in Bethlehem, "like a spotlight" on the baby Jesus "showing people the way to him," because, he says, "God was like a new dad.  He couldn't keep the good news to himself.  He'd been waiting all these long years for this moment.  And now, he couldn't wait to tell...everyone."

In the world, often those who believe this story muck it up, convolute it, add their own interpretations and regulations and conditions, stripping it of it's glory.  But at it's heart, this is a love story.  It's good news.  God saved the world with a baby: helpless, defenseless, needy, intimate--subject to all the injustices and failures of those around him that the rest of us face every day, bearing it all to destruction on the cross, in his body broken, blood shed.

In this story, there are no uzis, there is no fire from the sky.  Just a baby God, lying humbly in a food trough, for the love of us.

It is too wonderful.

It's True 

(featuring Toby Groves)

by Sara Groves

In your heart you
know it's true
though you hold no expectation
in the deepest part of you
there's an open hesitation

but it's true
kingdoms and crowns
a God who came down to find you
it's true
Angels on high
sing through the night alleluya

heard it told you
think it's odd
the whole thing fraught with complication
the play begins with
baby God
and all His blessed implications

but it's true
kingdoms and crowns
a God who came down to find you
it's true
Angels on high
sing through the night alleluia
alleluia, alleluia

Oh it's true
kingdoms and crowns
a God who came down to find you
it's true
Angels on high
sing through the night alleluia

Sunday, December 12, 2010

"I Wuv Mrs. Kwoz!"

We attended the annual Fire Department Christmas party last Sunday with the best Santa and Mrs. Claus in the history of St. Nick.  Ben couldn't wait to see Santa.  Abby couldn't wait to wear her Christmas clothes.  Several days before, she said, "Mommy, I'm worried my feet will grow too much before Christmas and my Christmas shoes won't fit."  I assured her it was highly unlikely her feet would grow that much over the course of the next few weeks, but she was much relieved to put them on for the party and finally wear them.

All week the kids discussed what they would ask Santa for this year.  They also had detailed conversations about how Santa would know which stocking is Abby's since she decided she wanted hers to be the reindeer stocking that's usually mine instead of the angel one she's used the last few years. Ben, very pragmatically, brought up this point when she decided to trade.  He also suggested the solution: let Santa know at the party.  She agreed.  

At the party, the kids waited patiently in line to see the beloved North Pole residents.  When their turn came, both kids happily sat on their laps: Ben on Santa's, Abby on Mrs. Claus's.  Since we've seen this same Santa and Mrs. Claus since Ben was a baby, Santa & Mrs. Claus remembered the kids, and Mrs. Claus, who seems to have a special fondness for Abby, delighted in giving her lots of squeezes and kisses.  Abby seemed to soak in every second of time with her.  

Santa chatted with Ben for a minute while Mrs. Claus talked to Abby about her pretty red dress (did you know red is Santa's favorite color?), and when the time came, Ben asked for a Santa costume (where am I going to find that?), Abby asked for a reindeer she could have in her bed (a reindeer stuffed animal), and then she shyly informed Santa of the new stocking arrangement here in Ben-and-Abby land.  With this explanation, the kids said goodbye to the costumed couple, who've infused their roles with a very real kindness and gentleness.  We gathered our coats and headed home.

When we got to the car, Abby said, "I wuv Mrs. Kwoz."  

I think the feeling is mutual.


Hoping this season brings the same merriment and magic to you and yours.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Somewhere in the middle of Utah, on the second day of our twenty-plus hour drive from California to Colorado, after a week of staying up past midnight playing games with family and then waking up with the kids bright and early in the morning, following an all-night drive to California the weekend before, Josh decided he needed some sleep.

We traded places at a rest stop overlooking miles of untouched land so I could drive, throwing out the sack from our most recent fast-food meal and giving Merlot a chance to use the natural facilities in the course of two minutes.  In order to get over the Rocky Mountain passes before the snow and darkness conspired against our journey homeward, we made our stops absolutely efficient.

We chose to swap about an hour after lunch when the kids would normally rest so, presumably, the car would be quiet.  I pulled back onto the highway, set the car's cruise control to 80 on our 75 mph course, selected music conducive to nap time, and settled in for my portion of the drive, absorbing the vast expanse of flat land punctuated by massive bluffs in every shade of pink and orange.  Josh let the kids know it was rest time, telling them he needed to sleep, too, so he could drive the difficult sections of snowy roads we knew we'd meet later in the day.  In the back seat, Ben and Abby grabbed their stuffed animals to settle in, and Ben picked up a quiet activity to occupy his time now that he no longer needs the daily afternoon sleep.

What ensued within minutes, however, was riotous laughter--the kind that only grows more exuberant with each new request for quiet.  As much as Josh tried to position himself comfortably, no matter how mellow or melodic the music I chose, regardless of how sternly we insisted it was rest time, the kids simply could not contain their giggles.  One would start and the other would join and after an hour passed this way, Josh sat up in his seat, conceding the battle for sleep.

As dire as the exhaustion was, though, we caught the twinkle in each other's eye.   Whatever the circumstance, the laughter of our kids reveling in each other's company is impossible to scorn.  We couldn't help but enjoy their childishness, even if it was at the expense of much-needed shut-eye.

Not surprisingly, the kids quieted after we gave up our effort to induce slumber.  Abby's eyes grew at first stare-y and then drooped ever further until they finally closed.  Ben's attention was drawn by the activity in his lap.  Josh finally had the quiet--and sleep--he so desperately sought earlier.  While he dozed, I drank in the vistas and the music, meditating on the miraculous world outside the car--and within.

It's funny how often parenting teaches this lesson.  Thou shalt not get what thou seeks in the moment.  But thou shalt often get something better, and eventually, when all seems for nought, thou shalt receive a miracle of grace--and rest.

About a year and a half ago, I wrestled some mighty demons--critical and condemning voices I met at the crossroads where my expectations of who my children should be met the reality of who they were in the moment.  And in that meeting of the twains, I had to confront who my children are, who I am, what my role as a mother is, and more importantly, what my role is not.  That struggle was a significant impetus for starting this blog, where I would have a space to process and navigate this murky territory of parenthood requiring the absolute surrender of self to what seems an impossible job but that, in reality, is the glorious gift of getting to know a person created wonderfully and fearfully, and shepherding this most precious creation through a world at once wondrous and cruel.

It has been this recognition that Ben and Abby are not my creation, not mine to "make," not mine to control but, rather, mine to love and discipline and forgive--over and over and over--that finally brought freedom from the whispers of doubt and failure that had plagued me.  Over the course of this trip, I got to live in this new reality: not fretting about the childish mistakes and misbehaviors of my children, regardless of who was present to witness their imperfection, but accepting it all as an invitation to love more, to forgive more, to trust in Someone outside myself more.

Because I've come to believe, somehow, that my children's behavior isn't always a reflection on me.  That he who is forgiven much loves much.  That maybe God even set it up this way.  That the opportunities I have to love my children through their imperfection actually increase their ability to love those around them.  We love because we were first loved, but love based on performance is not love at all.  To the contrary, I'm beginning to think the more we know we are loved apart from performance, the more we begin to perform.  So we actually had very few frustration-inducing moments during the week, probably because I wasn't trying so very hard to prevent them out of fear that I or they would look bad, wouldn't perform adequately.

Anyway, all these thoughts swirled while I navigated the windy highway up and down the rocky bluffs standing between us and home, the kids' laughter from the previous hour a soundtrack for these reflections on grace and freedom.  In the end, their levity, unwelcome at first, amplified my own.

And we all rested after all.
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